Tag Archives: Community

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Empty Calendar, Full Days

Last weekend, we experienced one of the rarest of occurrences. There was not a thing on our family calendar. The coming weekend spread before us on paper, a completely blank pair of days. There were a couple of things we thought we might do. The annual Fall Arts Festival would be in our town, an unusually lovely art show with fine artists’ booths that wind along a path in a redwood grove. The Jewish New Year began Sunday night, and I knew I wanted to cook a special meal. But unusually, we had all of the two days and nights to leisurely do those things and whatever else struck us.

We rode bikes to the art show fairly early on Saturday. We immediately saw good friends and beautiful art and artists, some of which also appeared as old friends, as they’ve been happy fixtures at the Festival since we started attending 20 years ago, the very weekend we first moved to Mill Valley. The grove had the moist redwood-duff smell that I’ll always strongly associate with my first days here. Still other Festival memories? Being seven months pregnant and buying a backpack of books at the adjoining library sale and laughing that they were balancing me front to back, and taking Anna to the Festival the next year when she was almost a year old. (This picture was taken that day.)

This weekend, we joined younger families in taking in a sweet and magical marionette show (its qualities only enhanced by being performed in what is known as the “fairy ring” of redwoods). I marveled at how very enraptured and still the audience of small children was as they sat on their tarp and on tree stumps. Other talented friends of ours, father and daughter Austin and Caroline de Lone, sang and played a variety of instruments through a fabulous set to which other of our friends wandered over, lured by the beautiful music. We saw more friends and got into long, deep discussions under the trees.

The looseness of the day called for meandering. There was a bliss to the spontaneity and complete lack of schedule. We didn’t have to be anywhere else, then or later. Still later, we ran into another friend while buying food for a simple dinner and ended up inviting her over. This so rarely happens — people call first and plan and shoehorn events into busy schedules far in the future. And yet the way the whole day played out struck me as the way things are supposed to be. This certainly seemed like a way to build community, by taking the time to stop and engage with people we meet in our daily travels.

 

Sunday brought more relaxation. We read. Anna did homework and worked on her essays for college. We leisurely planned dinner and I went shopping and later made two of my favorite dishes, Chicken Marbella and honey spice cake. Michael made mashed potatoes. At one point Anna called our attention to colorful oak leaves that were falling and swirling in the wind outside, and we all talked about how much it looked and felt like Fall.

At dinner we talked about the New Year and the big change to come of college. We dipped apples in honey to signify a sweet new year. We lingered at the table an especially long time, precisely because we had time. We even cleaned up in a leisurely way.

While many people relish an empty calendar, still others are afraid when confronted with one. Both of these extremes should tell us something. Lots of us are so conditioned to being booked up that free time is a rarity, and sometimes even a burden. This weekend showed me that an empty calendar can result in exceedingly full and rich days.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

 

Bike and Walk to School Day, Month, Life

October 6 (Update: October 3 in 2012) is International Walk to School Day, and the whole month of October has been designated Walk to School Month. Schoolchildren are encouraged to walk, bike, skateboard, scooter, bus, or carpool to school — anything that is different from the one child-one car system. And they’re encouraged to keep doing so, when and if they can. The beauty of the program, which was started in 1997 and expanded from a day to a month in 2006, is that a month is long enough for something like walking to become a routine and a habit, and a special day can energize people who might not have considered walking or biking before.

As of yesterday, more than 3,200 schools had registered for Walk to School Day on the U.S. Walk to Schools web site, a figure that’s expected to both increase throughout the month and be bigger in actuality (as not every school registers its efforts.)

First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign is also involved in the effort.

Of course, many of us remember when walking and biking to school was the norm and didn’t require any special days or rewards. The Safe Routes to Schools website notes that 42% of all students (and 87% of students within a mile) walked or biked to school in 1969, compared with 16% (and 63% within a mile – frankly, I would have thought that number was lower) in 2001. Busy schedules, parental fears, suburban sprawl, lack of school-bus funding, and other lifestyle shifts have all contributed to a culture of driving to school drop-off zones, even in towns where walking and biking is pretty do-able. I’d love to see figures for today, because I think the norm has shifted once again.

The U.S. Walk to Schools site has a lot of wonderful information about the benefits of walking. The site’s Frequently Asked Questions page has a great checklist to help parents determine the walking and biking safety of their own neighborhoods, as well as suggestions for customizing a walk if the school is too far away for walking or biking. There are also lists of U.S. and international cities and countries that are participating in International Walk to School Day.

My community has been participating in International Walk to School Day, through our local Safe Routes to Schools program, for years. I have witnessed first-hand the increase in regular walkers and bikers to school since the program started. More people, of all ages, out on the streets make them safer for the next group of schoolchildren who comes along. Communities also benefit from getting to know one another better, as they get into the healthy walking habit together. And families, if mine is any indication, experience less stress (the school drop-off zone always seems unnatural and harried. Is it me?) — and more joyful time together when parents can walk with younger children.

The number of participating schools goes up each year — perhaps yours has already planned some events, assemblies or rewards. Let us know!

Enjoy International Walk to School Month!

Here are more great resources:

Marin Safe Routes to Schools
U.S. Safe Routes to Schools
U.S. Walk to Schools
International Walk to Schools
Why Walk and Bike?
Safe Routes Guide for Parents and Teachers (very comprehensive)
Field Notes From the Future: Safe Routes to Schools Publishes New Resource Guides
Car Free Days: Wednesday is Intl Walk to School Day (but you can walk/ride all month)
Car Free Days: Biking to School … Without Parents
Free Range Kids: Non-Sanctimonious Blog About Today: WALK TO SCHOOL DAY!
Slow Family Online: Why Can’t She Walk to School in Today’s New York Times?

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

October is International Walk to School Month

kidswalk

October 7 is International Walk to School Day, and the whole month of October has been designated Walk to School Month. Schoolchildren are encouraged to walk, bike, skateboard, scooter, bus, or carpool to school — anything that is different from the one child-one car system. And they’re encouraged to keep doing so, when and if they can. The beauty of the program, which was expanded from a day to a month in 2006, is that a month is long enough for something like walking to become a routine and a habit.

The International Walk to School-USA site has a lot of wonderful information about the benefits of walking. The site’s  Frequently Asked Questions page has a great checklist to help parents determine the walking and biking safety of their own neighborhoods, as well as suggestions for customizing a walk if the school is too far away for walking or biking.

My community has been participating in International Walk to School Day, through our local Safe Routes to Schools program, for years. I have witnessed first-hand the increase in regular walkers and bikers to school since the program started. More people, of all ages, out on the streets make them safer for the next group of schoolchildren who comes along. Communities also benefit from getting to know one another better, as they get into the healthy walking habit together.

The number of participating schools goes up each year — perhaps yours has already planned some events, assemblies or rewards. Enjoy International Walk to School Month!

(This link will get you to Marin Safe Routes to Schools.)

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

Slow News Day: A Bumper Crop of Gardeners

Last summer, I noticed a spate of news stories about the rise of home gardening. In July, ’08, Newsweek and NPR both reported that concerns about food safety, as well as an increasing desire to eat locally and healthily, was turning a lot of folks into Green Thumbs. People like Fred Davis and Yvette Roman Davis, bloggers at Beyond the Lawn, reported reclaiming their L.A. front lawn for a thriving Victory Garden.

I thought this was supremely cool, as it seemed to usher in an era of getting away from water-guzzling, appearance-oriented lawns and into practical, food-producing gardens. These prove beautiful, too, of course. It’s just a shift in perspective and priorities that allows us to bring the backyard up to the front. (Some neighborhoods have even loosened their restrictions on such sustainable practices as front-yard growing and line-drying of laundry.)

Peppers

As a bonus, front yard gardeners get to know — and sometimes feed — their neighbors. Community happens when we move yard and porch living out of the private and into the public. This summer, I’ve already heard about two monthly plant exchanges and a weekly vegetable harvest exchange in my neighborhood, as well as new farmers’ markets in my larger community.

Farmersmarket

Of course, further afield, the Obama White House broke ground for its organic vegetable garden (involving local schoolchildren in the process), the first White House vegetable garden since Eleanor Roosevelt’s Victory Garden in the 1940s.

I’m very moved by this picture of First Lady Michelle Obama and children in the garden, that appears in the White House blog. Food from the garden is feeding the White House and Washington, D.C.’s Miriam’s Kitchen, which feeds the homeless.

flotus_garden1_blog

Last week’s San Francisco Chronicle had another story about the rise in home gardening. Chris Romas, the president of W. Atlee Burpee, the world’s largest seed company, said he hasn’t seen this kind of interest in home growing in 30 years. Lots of currents are influencing people to turn or return to gardening — It’s a cost-effective way to supply one’s food, you have complete control over the way your food is grown, you can get in touch with the land, you can enjoy companionship or solitude, and it’s very satisfying to grow and make your own food.

I have fond memories of vegetable gardening with my dad, growing up. We had wonderful raised beds and great Southern California sun. But you don’t have to have either to enjoy growing food. I’ve grown tomatoes on a Manhattan balcony and pumpkin, corn, peppers and more on my fog-shrouded deck in Mill Valley. If you’ve been following my Deck Garden tales, you know the advice to use your vertical space, with trellises and vines. I also urge beginning gardeners to start small, follow seed-pack directions, weed out seedlings so that the hardiest new plantings will have room to grow, and harvest your crops, so you can enjoy them and also give new growth some room to come in.

I’m going to take my own advice and have a big home-grown salad for lunch. This is my 2′x 2′ lettuce box today:

Lettuce2

This is the box a month ago:

Lettuce3

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

White House Garden Photo Courtesy of The White House/Joyce N. Boghosian

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